Iraqi Union Leaders Speak About Occupation - Part I of II
FWCUI President Falah Awan (left) and UUI Representative Amjad Ali Aljawhry (right) spoke about the military occupation
of Iraq. They provided a status report on their country's security and the economic conditions of Iraqi society.
(Chicago) – Falah Awan and Amjad Ali Aljawhry spoke about the effects of military occupation on Iraqi society and the
country’s labor union movement.
Awan is president of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq (FWCUI) and Aljawhry is representative of the
FWCUI and the Union of the Unemployed in Iraq (UUI) for North America. Both workers’ organizations want independent,
democratic unions free of government control.
As leaders of Iraq’s work force they expressed their organizations are free of religious, political, gender, and ethnic
discrimination. They see these principles as the building blocks for a secular, multi-ethnic labor movement in Iraq.
Both speakers stressed for the removal of U.S. and British occupation forces.
After 27 months of occupation, “…our federation stands for immediate withdrawal of troops immediately,” Aljawhry said.
“Since day one of occupation Iraqi people have not seen one single moment of peace.”
Some concrete examples he gave are the desperate living conditions of the people and the deepened, ethnic divisions. The
death and devastation caused by rocket-propelled grenades, suicide bombers and car bombs leave thousands of civilians
and troops dead in the streets. With regards to the democracy and security the Bush Administration declared publicly,
“…we never seen anything promised,” he added.
Awan shared similar sentiments when he explained “…the occupying troops have installed a government based on ethnic and
religious divisions that…put the society on the verge of civil war.”
Since the first day of occupation, the Iraq labor movement began building a new tradition of labor leadership that has
its own alternatives to the situation, Awan said. While Iraq’s labor organizations wait to participate in writing their
country’s constitution, the current labor code is from the times of Saddam’s reign, who outlawed unions in the 1970s.
Awan believes the current government is an application of U.S. policy planned previously, which represents unions of
right-wing regime policy.
When it comes to creating Iraq’s stability, Awan believes it is not the task of one political party or another but the
workers’ responsibility to restore civil society. Aljawhry provided examples of the country’s infrastructure in need of
renovation that affect Iraqis. The water purification system is inadequate, so people buy their drinking water. The
sewer system needs radical change. When the temperature soars to 50 degrees Celsius, people suffer from dehydration
because the electricity runs four hours per day. Even though garbage should be transported to remote areas, they dump it
in downtown locations.
The millions of dollars allocated for reconstruction projects had to be set aside for security reasons. Despite U.S.
promises to raise security within Iraq, theft and corruption are rampant -- especially with the influx of foreign
fighters in the country.
“I’m not saying it was good under Saddam Hussein when corruption was high,” Aljawhry said, “but the U.S. occupation set
corruption free.” As a result, poor and unsafe living conditions are the consequences. More than half of the country’s
population – Iraqi women and children – cannot leave their homes without a male, family member escorting them. “This is
the democracy we’ve been promised,” he added.
During Hussein’s reign, labor organizers either rallied workers underground or they fled the country in exile. In 1995,
the Ba’ath party blacklisted Aljawhry from employment because of his political views and his mobilization of sewing
workers. The situation forced his family and him to flee to Turkey, and then he immigrated to Canada where he has been
active in the Iraq labor movement.
Before the first Gulf War, Awan organized workers in factories and in construction trades. When he refused to sign the
Saddam loyalty pledge, the Ba’athists barred him from practicing his trade as an engineer. While he worked with the UUI
he co-founded the FWCUI in December 2003 - after the fall of Saddam’s regime. He believes the Iraq labor movement is an
international labor movement that protects the rights of union workers globally.
As Iraq’s labor organizations work for a progressive society, “…we call upon freedom lovers to present their
alternatives in front of the dark scenarios…a labor movement needs the entire labor movement of the world to stand by
it,” Awan said.
He is a tall man with an aquiline nose, who spoke with a calm but firm voice. “I think that empowering the civil front
of Iraq will become a historic opportunity…not just for Iraqis but for workers all over the world,” he said. Awan
captured the American audience through his Arabic translator, Aljawhry, who leaned over to reach the top of the
Their hope is that the millions of people across the world who demonstrated against the war in Iraq will stand now
because their workers’ rights are at stake also.
With regards to U.S. policy abroad, the Iraq labor movement’s position is that Iraq is not only a local matter but an
international issue. Their belief is that the victory of Iraqi workers will be a victory for the workers’ movement
Part Two of this article will cover the question and answer session between Iraq’s labor leaders and several audience
members. Special coverage is brought to you by journalist Sonia Nettnin.
Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on
international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these
perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.
Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover,
Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.
She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her
sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle
East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.